The Boss Baby (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Boss Baby (2017)

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Timothy's got perfect parents. They're loving and supportive, keen to encourage his imagination, and always tuck him into bed with hugs, stories, and songs. His idyllic life comes to a halt when his parents bring home his new baby brother, a strange fellow already equipped with a briefcase, suit, and far too much interest in capital.  Tom McGrath directs The Boss Baby, with the screenplay written by Michael McCullers, and stars Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Steve Buscemi, and Tobey Maguire.

Peak DreamWorks Animation in my memory will likely always lie with Shark Tale, which featured Martin Scorsese's eyebrows and that macabre shot of a shark corpse floating away from its "burial."  It's so off-putting and grotesque that its images have festered in my mind for so long that I may have a forced love of it now.  The premise of The Boss Baby leans hard into Shark Tale's brand of grotesque.  There's no illusion of warmth when Theodore (Alec Baldwin) shows up as a hyper capitalist, empty catchphrase spewing, diaper-clad monstrosity demanding all the love and attention.

I was fully prepared for another surreal Shark Tale experience when Theodore begins commanding his parent's attention while refusing to break eye contact with brother Timothy (Miles Bakshi.)  But around the first chase sequence, featuring baby "muscle" taking several suction cup darts for Theodore while he peddles away, the most unlikely thing happened and I started to dig The Boss Baby a lot.  I admit, part of the appeal is seeing diaper-clad hyper capitalists reduced to crying about profits.  The other part is the growing sweetness of The Boss Baby using a child's imagination to cope with changing life conditions and the reality of aging.

The Mouse Trap diversion hits a special place in my heart for trying to get the bloody thing to work properly and marveling when it did.

A huge chunk of The Boss Baby's appeal comes from the sly voice casting.  Baldwin as the titular baby gives Michael McCullers' screenplay room to paraphrase some of Baldwin's most enduring lines ("Cookies are for closers.")  The surprising bit comes from Baldwin's vulnerability - he is a baby after all - locked behind the alpha posturing he's most known for.  Steve Buscemi and Tobey Maguire, both performers who feel locked in eternal childhood, are excellent choices to communicate both the despair of growing old and the exciting possibilities age presents.

McCullers' screenplay is more than an excuse to trot out familiar lines from our pop cultural consciousness.  The central conflict, that Theodore has to prevent the release of an eternally young puppy to keep puppies from cornering the market on love, is deeply rooted in millennial anxieties.  For the most part, we don't want kids, and it's precisely our culture's reliance on the kind of capitalist mega consolidation presented in The Boss Baby that's left us adrift without much hope for our generation to say nothing of the next.  My wife and I decided cats were a better investment on the love we have to give, so I admit there's a certain horrific appeal in The Boss Baby presenting a pet that never ages.

Director Tom McGrath, whose career includes contributions to the Madagascar series and directing the intermittently excellent Megamind, visualizes this pressure in an ode to Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times.  Babies come out of a giant assembly machine that also wouldn't feel out of place in a Dr. Seuss story, with all the angelic glow of creating concluding in desk jobs for millions of humans that don't know what it means to have a family.  This image may be the best representation of why millennials (like me) don't want to have kids.  We've suffered in the soul crushing realities of cubicle work, why in all creation would we want the next generation to do the same?

McGrath and company accomplish a difficult thing - communicating heavy issues about millennial anxieties while making a children's film with often hilarious and deft sequences.  The natural childish inclination to exaggerate everything is communicated from the first frame on with boldly clashing colors illustrating Timothy's imagination.  One of these moments was spectacular, combining shadows freed from physical rules to take life on the two dimensional space of dark red walls while leaping into three-dimensional space on Timothy's whims.  In a film chock full of pop culture allusions, this nod to Samurai Jack (another millennial love) delighted me the most.

One of the traits DreamWorks animation has slowly shed is the need for constant quipping, and this odd moment is made hilarious by the father's decision to leave well enough alone.

For those keeping score, The Boss Baby still follows the DreamWorks Animation tradition of borrowing heavily from pop culture.  What separates The Boss Baby from the more grating works, such as the Shrek sequels, is how McGrath interweaves these allusions into the style of The Boss Baby without making them the primary focus.  The childish perspective lends a natural legitimacy to their inclusion, and the results are often so creative that even those unfamiliar with the source material will likely have a grand time.

Finally, I love The Boss Baby's gentle reassurance about growing old.  The abnormally cute eternal puppy is seen side-by-side with a baby aging to an old man.  Amusingly, the baby framework remains but gains a long wizard beard because that's many children's reference point for getting old.  The final image of a tombstone next to the eternal puppy isn't a dark joke, but a natural progression of kids learning to accept things change and recognizing how unnatural the idea of eternal youth is.  For a film that treats baby spittle as a binding force just as potent as Spider-Man's webs, this is an unexpected and welcome vision of how to teach the next generation about unavoidable changes in life.

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The Boss Baby (2017)

Directed by Tom McGrath.
Screenplay written by Michael McCullers.
Starring Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Steve Buscemi, and Tobey Maguire.

Posted by Andrew

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